Despite mounting pressure to tackle soaring obesity levels, the British government will not impose a ban on advertising food to children.
Culture, media and sport secretary Tessa Jowell on Wednesday told the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers' annual conference that the marketing industry must work with the government to improve Britain's health.
She has decided that advertising curbs would be hard to impose -- certainly more so than in the case of tobacco. Jowell believes the issue to be extremely complex, and there is no evidence an ad ban would make a significant difference.
"Anyone who thinks the solution to this is easy does not understand the problem," she told ISBA.
Jowell also ruled out dire health warnings on the packaging of snacks. The minister believes it is important to encourage a balanced diet, rather than demonise certain high-fat foods.
To this end, she wants the ad sector to play its part by portraying food products within the context of a healthy diet. The theme should be "everything in moderation", though it will be left to the ad industry to find the best way to put forward this message.
Jowell's comments may anger some anti-food campaigners, as they precede the final policy recommendations of government watchdog the Food Standards Agency. The FSA, which believes advertising has a significant effect on children's food choices, is due to give its advice next week.
In addition, a review of the code governing food and drink ads by media supra-regulator Ofcom is not expected until next month.
Jowell's speech is unlikely to end demands for a junk food ad ban. This week, Sustain, an organisation devoted to sustainable farming, unveiled a coalition of 106 bodies in favour of curbs on the advertising of fast food.
However, the Advertising Association's Food Advertising Unit welcomed the minister's proposals. "If you ban advertising to children, broadcasters' revenues would fall and they would not be able to produce the same quality of programmes," said a spokesman.
Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff